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A Look into FIU's New Virtual Classroom

– LEONCIO ALVAREZ, FIU Online. December 3, 2013

Every year more and more new college students are taking notice of online education. According to U.S. News & World Report, in 2010, more than 6.1 million students nationwide took at least one online course. FIU has been offering online courses since 1998.

This year, FIU launched eight fully online undergraduate programs and one graduate program, with plans to launch two education master degrees in Spring 2014. Sophia Kalicharan and Caitlin Cole are part of this new group of academic revolutionaries. Kalicharan started out taking traditional classes at FIU and later moved to New York.

“I took a couple of online classes back then, but it wasn’t anything fully online … yet,” she said. “I used to work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., so getting to class was not easy for me.”

After doing some research, she met with the FIU Online admissions team to discuss pursuing one of the new fully online degrees. As a business major, Kalicharan chose human resources management as her concentration out of five available options.

“That’s when it hit me,” she said. “‘Wait a minute, I thought, I could actually go to school and finish my degree while still being able to take care of my family and doing all of the things that I needed to do.”

Now, she lives in New York with her family, which has been supportive of her online venture since the beginning. For Kalicharan, continuing her education with FIU was the only option.

“I originally thought about transferring to a university up here,” she said. “But when you look at the whole picture, it just wouldn’t work for me. Living in New York is very hard. We have a car, but getting from one place to another is difficult with a baby.”

Amid the struggles of balancing work and family, Kalicharan has been able to get it all done – on her time.

“My daughter is in daycare for half the day which gives me enough time for school,” she said. “I get to study from about 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., that’s my dedicated time. It gets harder to go online as the day goes by, unless I have a required exam or group meeting.”

Kalicharan says that communication between her and professors is essential to excel online.

“All of the professors’ contact info was in the syllabus since the first day. I have never had a problem reaching them,” she said. “They are always quick to respond. The absolute most that I have waited for a reply has been 24 hours.”
“If you know to manage your time effectively, then you won’t have a problem taking classes online,” she said. “Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to continue with an online master’s program when I’m done. That’s my goal,” she said.

Cole is also pursuing a fully online degree. But her story is a little different.

Cole grew up in Orlando. After some time at the University of Central Florida, she decided to join her sister who was living in Miami.

Currently, she travels back and forth between Orlando and Miami. With the goal of becoming a physical therapist, she works late into the night as a bartender and spends her days studying hard for her undergraduate recreational therapy degree.

“I love my online classes,” she said. “I can do it all on my own time. I can take tests in my room, when I’m relaxed. I usually get very nervous in a classroom setting so it’s nice to be able to do it at home.”

Scheduling your days is important for online success, Cole says.

“I work at a restaurant so it’s so hard to have a set schedule,” she said. “I use a planner to write down my work times and when assignments and tests are due during the week. That way, I can see what days I am most free and I can dedicate those to studying.”

There is a little Vegan restaurant in Orlando that is Cole’s favorite study spot. “They have a tea of the day and a nice little outside garden. I like to sit there with my laptop and get work done,” she said.

Sophia Kalicharan and Caitlin Cole are part of FIU’s first cohort of fully online undergraduate students.

Cole is proud of being an online student. There are times, she says, when she feels she has to defend her education.

“There are people out there who don’t understand it’s a real degree. They think this is like [one of those for-profit schools] or something. But no, this is an actual institution. I can decide to take classes on-campus if I wanted to, but I’m choosing to be online,” she said.